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Pain at Home

Friday, February 18, 2005; Page A28

ONE NEED NOT embrace the incendiary rhetoric of the mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley, who likened the Bush administration's proposed budget cuts to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to agree that their impact will be felt in counties, cities and neighborhoods -- in some cases severely. Under President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget plan, non-Medicaid grants to state and local governments would decline by $10.7 billion, or 4.5 percent, to $225 billion. In the Washington region as elsewhere, what is hidden in the abstraction of those numbers are the effects on communities of reducing or eliminating funding for programs in job training, adult education and affordable housing.

In this region there is particular concern about proposed reductions in Community Development Block Grants, which have attracted bipartisan support as a means of helping rejuvenate older, poorer and struggling neighborhoods, in part by providing affordable housing. In Arlington, for instance, the grants account for more than 12 percent of the county's $18 million annual housing budget -- this in a jurisdiction where the stock of affordable housing units is being rapidly depleted. The grants have provided aid to Arlington's Columbia Heights West neighborhood, home to a melting pot of immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. The Nauck neighborhood of South Arlington, a historically African American enclave, also has benefited.

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In Maryland, Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D) has called attention to the elimination in the president's budget of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, under which Prince George's County received $733,000 this year and Montgomery County $627,000. But those cuts seem to work at cross-purposes with the anti-gang initiatives that Mr. Bush recently unveiled. "It's a contradictory position, and it's incoherent policy," Mr. Wynn told The Post. Other cuts proposed by the administration would trim local budgets for special education and further squeeze the supply of Section 8 housing vouchers, which help needy people pay for lodging.

Affluent, growing and relatively resistant to economic zigs and zags, this region is luckier than many, and better able to withstand the cuts proposed by the president; soaring property values and tax revenue in the past year will also buffer the effect of Mr. Bush's cutbacks on the area's suburbs. But the administration's budget, coupled with plans to cap discretionary domestic spending for years to come, will accelerate the trend toward shifting the burden of government services to states and localities. That is likely to force some state and local governments to raise taxes, offsetting the effects of the president's misguided federal tax cuts. In this zero-sum game, local jurisdictions are the losers.

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